In my long and storied history as a referee (approximately three years), the number of female referees I have worked with can probably be counted on one hand. And the only reason it isn’t less than that is because on more than one occasion, I’ve been willing to drive all the way to Pennsylvania, or out to the boondocks of Western New Jersey, to ref for girl’s teams in tournaments or playoffs.
The fact of the matter is women referees are somewhat akin to sightings of Bigfoot. People claim to see them, but do they really exist? Yes. Yes they do.
So what it is like to be a female in a man’s world? Well if you play your cards right you get to witness chiseled, shirtless men change into their striped sweaters in front of your wide, appreciative eyes. But then again, you could walk into the locker room to have someone say, “Hold on a second, I need to change,” and then promptly whips his pants off. You have to take the good with the bad, I suppose.
Some people may think that it’s intimidating to be the one of few female referees in the area, and while that is true, it can also lead to great opportunities. People remember you. People offer to get you games where you can ref for girl’s or women’s teams. You get to go to a more exclusive, less crowded referee seminar over the summer to be certified for the upcoming season (a process you have to repeat every year). You get to enjoy the looks of surprise and awe on kid’s faces when they realize you’re not a man. And if you work hard and do a good job, you can enjoy having the respect of men around you when they realize that you’re just as good at this job as they are.
By far one of the nicest compliments I have ever personally received was when I was playing an adult league game, and one of the refs was someone I had worked with.
“Why didn’t you say hi?” he asked after the game.
“I usually find it safe to assume that people don’t remember me.”
“Oh, I remember you.” I was going to ask if it was because I was a girl, but before I could, he said: “You’re a good referee. That’s how I remember you.”
There are, of course, cons to being the official that has a long ponytail sticking out the back of their helmet. Sometimes it’s hard to be taken seriously, particularly if you are younger. When I played girls travel hockey, I had a coach who despised female referees, which I found somewhat ironic, as he was coaching a girl’s team.
It can be intimidating, walking into the locker room and seeing seven guys in there and you have to wade across a sea of testosterone and bags that smell like they have never been aired out, ever, to get to the only empty chair in the room. It can be awkward, especially when the guy you’re supposed to be working with makes it apparent that he has never seen a woman playing or reffing hockey before and that you are a freak of nature and why aren’t you wearing figure skates, god damn it?
That’s why, to me, the most important thing about being a female referee is establishing your presence and not being afraid of the label “bitch.” You have to be bossy. You have to remind everyone who is in charge of the game. You have to let these kids know that just because you’re a woman that doesn’t mean you’re “soft” and will let them get away with unnecessary pushing and shoving. You have to remember that you hold the whistle, and thus, the power, and you should own it.
People are going to call you a bitch, and probably a lot of other terrible things because everyone hates referees, but don’t shy away from it. Embrace the role wholeheartedly and remember that even though you may feel like a lone unicorn*, standing out from the crowd of zebras is empowering, and if you play your cards right, you’ll rise among the ranks. Also, remember that thing I said about sculpted abs being on full display. That’s cool too.
Embrace the power. Wield it wisely.
*Get it? Because the ponytail is like a reverse unicorn horn.